How quickly is social media catching on as an engagement channel for SMB customer service and support? It depends on who you ask—and has significant implications for both SMBs and traditional CRM vendors.
In our joint SMB Group-CRM Essentials “2011 Small and Medium Business Social Business Study,” we surveyed 750 SMB (small business is 1-99 employees; medium business is 100-999 employees) decision-makers about their use and plans for social media for sales, marketing, customer service and support, product development, HR and other business functions.
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To put social media adoption in context, we asked several questions to better understand how SMBs accomplish their business objectives though different channels and mechanisms, including, “What percentage of customer service/support interactions in your company are initiated via the following channels?”
Across the total small business respondent base, social media accounts for about 8% of customer service and support interactions that are initiated across the total small business respondent base (Figure 1). In and of itself, this data point is significant: social media has already equaled or surpassed live chat and self-service portals (which have been around for many years) and is poised to gallop past snail mail. Based on other data in the survey, we expect that when we repeat this study next year, social media will have gained significant ground as a customer service/support channel at the expense of all of the alternatives.
Figure 1: Small Business: Percentage of Customer Service/Support Interactions Initiated Via Multiple Channels
When we sliced the data by four segments (which include: don’t use and no plans to use; don’t use but plan to; use in an informal way; and use in a structured way) a more distinct picture takes shape:
- In small businesses that use social media in a strategic and structured way, 17% of customer service/support interactions are initiated via social media.
- This compares to just 2% among small businesses that don’t use and have no plans to use social media.
- The percentage of customer service/support interactions via social media roughly doubles as these businesses get more involved with and committed to social media as a vital part of the business.
We also found that while social media already accounts for a significantly higher percentage of customer service/support interactions in medium business than in small, this trend is just pronounced: Customer service and support interactions via social media rise in direct correlation to more engaged and strategic use by the business.
SMBs that continue to think that Twitter is just for Charlie Sheen or that Facebook is only useful for Sarah Palin do so at their own peril. Increasingly, social media is the first stop customers’ make when they have a gripe or an issue. SMBs that are tuned to relevant social media conversations and can effectively harness social media to respond will rapidly gain competitive advantages over those that drag their feet.
Meanwhile, although traditional CRM vendors are integrating social media into their solutions, most are concentrating more on marketing, and less on customer service and support. Although marketing is certainly at the forefront of SMB social media adoption, our research indicates that CRM vendors will need to do more in the customer service and support area—and do it more quickly—to keep pace with the changes that social media is fueling in this area.